12.31.18: Party of the Year

File Under: artists, celebration, celery puree with caviar, clementines, eleven pm party start, elf (adorable), Gluklya the Most Generous Host (thanks so much for inviting us!), fireworks, friendships (new and old), laughter (lots), painting, performance, poetry, presents, Prosecco, Pushkin, Putin, smoking, songs (from sentimental to singalong to Sufjan Stevens), sparklers, speeches, staircase (dramatic), Super 8,  tequila + vodka + vodka + vodka, weaving, wee hours, welcome, wild dancing, windows, winter walk, and zzzzzzzzzzz for us at 5 am but the Russians party on…


12.30.18: Stalin In The Silverware

As regular readers of this blog well know, there are few things we love more than a good flea market. Udelnaya, Russia’s biggest, certainly qualifies. But throw in a fresh snowfall, the Day-Before-New-Year’s-Eve shoppers searching for the perfect last-minute gift, steaming samovars, tasty lamb stew pirozhki, winter coats in every shape and color, communist-era Christmas tree ornaments galore, some seriously powerful pensioners, and Udelnaya goes from Good to A+++ Amazing!


12.29.18: A City Symphony Saturday Night

The video projector’s set up, the art’s on the walls, the Christmas tree is decorated, the PA’s arrived, the candy is out, there’s snow in an old pot to cool down the beer and champagne, the seating’s arranged, the coat rack and slippers are waiting… Let’s have a party!!!

The Sound We See: A Saint Petersburg City Symphony premiered on a cold December night to a packed house full of warm hearts. Congrats to Anton, Olga, Anna, Alice, Sophia, Inna, Jonas, Elena, Roman, Evgeniya, Masha, Ilya, Igor, Ilya, Polina, Cynthia, Pavel, Masha, Juliana, Anna, Leda, Polina, Arseny, Anna, Emil, Dinara, Viktoria, Nina, Alexancer, Nastya, Amet, Nikita, Levon, Alexey, Leonid, Valeriya, Anastasia, Lyuda, Egor, Nikita, Natalva, Vasil, Nikita, Victoria, Vitali and Nikita: your images celebrating the creative people and places of your city are poetic, powerful, poignant and political. Hats off to our intrepid musicians Alexey and Sasha for working together for the first time to come up with a stellar score in a mere four days! Big appreciation to Eve’s Rib for hosting, and sharing your passion for feminist art and activism with us. And a super special thanks to CEC Artslink Back Apartment Residency for the generous support and making this project possible. Art CAN bring people and nations together and make this world just a little bit brighter!

12.27.18: The Solitary Ramble

Sometimes even the sweetest of sweethearts need to go their separate ways. Known variously around here as Paolo Time, Free Day or just The Solitary Ramble, Paolo heads off to the hinterlands in search of controversial modern landmarks and ice-fishers while Lisa goes literary, exploring the last living quarters (and hat, plus wallpaper) of Dostoyevsky and the first living quarters (and shoes, plus butterflies) of Nabokov. Reunited at the Astoria Hotel for late afternoon tea while a louche version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” drones in the background, the best part of being apart is coming back together to compare notes (and photos!) on a grand day apart…



12.26.18: Listening for the Heartbeat of Leningrad

Today a trip to the Moskovy District to check out some serious Soviet architecture and monuments to Lenin and the Siege of Leningrad.

First up, the big Lenin in Ploshchad Moskovskaya (Moscow Square). One of more than 50 Lenin statues sprinkled around the city, this one apparently used to be paired with a big Stalin “but all ‘Man of Steel’ statues were removed a long time ago.” Behind him, the House of Soviets (“the finest example in St. Petersburg of the grandiose monumental architecture of the Stalinist era”) still looms large but how would Lenin feel about facing a giant Christmas Tree adorned with festive pinecones and sets of ice skates?

The House of Soviets was completed in 1941. In early September of that year, the Siege of Leningrad began. It didn’t end until late January of 1944: 872 days. The goal of the Nazis in surrounding the city was to completely destroy it and its citizens; it’s been said that the siege caused the greatest destruction and the largest loss of life ever known in a modern city with over a million and a half people killed due to bombardments as well as the lack of basic necessities such as heat, water and food, especially in the extreme cold of winter. Diary entries from the time detail the horrors–including cannibalism–people experienced in their fight for survival. The Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad looms impressively out of the landscape at Ploshchad Pobedy (no statues dedicated to the cats who helped save the city; those are located elsewhere…) but what I was most intrigued by was under the ground: the Heartbeat of Leningrad, a metronome ticking that played over loudspeakers and radio that assured people their city was still alive in the bleakest of times. We’d read somewhere that you could still hear the heartbeat in the Museum beneath the monument but alas, it’s closed on Wednesday with the only action around being a small army of snow-shovelers making sure the past remains accessible, seven decades later…




12.25.18: Christmas Not Christmas

When is Christmas not Christmas? When you’re in Russia, where they follow the Julian calendar for religious holidays which means Christmas here is celebrated January 7. There’s still that festive holiday feeling in the air of course (although it’s really more directed at New Year’s Eve/Day, which became the really big holiday after Christmas was banned post-revolution and Christmas Trees became New Year Trees) but otherwise it’s business as usual so after a meeting with Alexey and Alexander and Lera and Nastya about the SWS soundtrack, what could be more wintery than a visit to the Arctic Museum? There’s a whole wing dedicated to penguins plus enough taxidermy, dioramas, maps, odd ephemera and weird paintings to captivate one for hours. Points off for the fact that aside from one very kickass photo of a woman steering a sled pulled by a passel of reindeer, indigenous people are pretty much entirely excluded from this story of Arctic “discovery” (surprise, surprise). Throw in a snowy stroll down Pushkinskaya, a dog in a sweater, a cat picture frozen in ice, miniature snowmen, coffee in the world’s tiniest cafe, a hoppin’ babushki market, an opening at Borey Art Center and a delicious dinner with Cynthia at Bekitzer and that’s a pretty much a perfect Not Christmas Christmas.


12.23.18: From Ballet to Bohemian Rhapsody

If you’re going to go to the ballet for the very first time, you might as well go to Saint Petersburg’s historic Mariinsky Theater.  And if it’s almost Christmas, you might as well go see The Nutcracker, which premiered in this very theater on December 18, 1892 with music by native son Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. And if it’s The Nutcracker, you might as well go to the Sunday afternoon matinee so you can imagine an alternate universe run by nattily dressed and vaguely melancholy children.

Afterwards, you can walk the tranquil snowy streets, stopping for the best borscht in the city at a little family-run bakery where the grandma fake-scolds you for tracking melting snow onto her freshly mopped floor and then ruffles your hair and gives you some golden christmas tree ornaments in the shape of hearts, and the daughter laughs in the nicest possible way when you try to say “Everything was delicious!” in Russian. Not to be outdone, the guy at the other bakery on the block gives you some free bread just because you stop for a minute to look in the window. And then you can continue on your way, popping into the Pushkin Library which is filled with books about crafts and animals and artists who illustrated books of Pushkin’s stories, scoping out the Saint Petersburg Miniature Museum on the sixth floor of the very weird half-empty mall, and enjoying the folks enjoying themselves in big public squares and parks around the Hermitage before eating a piece of chocolate cake and catching an evening screening of Bohemian Rhapsody in the swanky conference room/”cinema lounge” of the fancy Angleterre Hotel. The people surrounding us spend the film’s duration talking loudly, playing games on their phones, and making out. Okay, so the Freddie Mercury story may not be high art but where are those kids from the ballet to teach these boors some manners?

12.22.18: St. Dogville

Today’s excursion adventure takes us to the far side of Vasilievsky Island, to the Sevkabel Port  a new “urban renewal” project where hipsters meet to ice skate, buy artisanal sausage while Bruce Springsteen’s  version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” wafts around in the background and, for two days this weekend, check out the Seventh Independent Contemporary Art Fair, an installation-based gathering of the city’s coolest creators curated by art collective North 7. Subtitled “St. Dogville: a city of artists, a city of dogs”, we don’t see any actual dogs in attendance (although there is a shy tabby kitten cruising around) but there are certainly plenty of artists, including our favorite creative family The Katz-Shvetsovs who are providing provocative prints and festive holiday cookies to get everyone in the spirit of giving. Afterwards, it’s a cozy vegetarian dinner at Botanika while the snow falls daintily outside. When the waitress finds out we live in California she say “Oh, that’s why your faces have such a happy glow!” but really it’s St. P that’s putting the spark in us these days…